UCD Marian begin the basketball season on October 6th against UCC Demons, Tony Flynn met up with Superleague player and UCD alumni Kevin Foley to get his insight on the club and to talk about some of the changes that have taken place.
There has been plenty going on behind the scenes at Marian since last season. DCU Mercy’s Ioannis Liapakis has joined as head coach, with a number of players moving onto pastures new.
As if that wasn’t enough, American power forward Terence King has signed from East Stroudsberg University. The future is looking bright, however, there is one question on everyone’s minds; can UCD Marian compete for silverware this year?
Marian won the National Cup in 2011, but the league title has proved somewhat elusive. When asked about last year’s displays, Foley said, “We finished just outside the playoffs in fifth in the league last season and we lost in the semi-final of the National Cup last year to University Limerick who were the League champions. They went on to lose to Neptune, which was a bit of a shock in the final of the cup.”
However, that doesn’t tell the whole story, with many adamant that Marian were very unlucky not to progress to the final themselves. “The semi for us was close and in the end we lost by about nine points. There was only a point in it with two minutes to go, but they pulled away in those last minutes. There were a few calls that could’ve gone either way, but the score line didn’t reflect how close it was.”
This current UCD side will be greatly boosted by the appointment of the new head coach Ioannis Liapakis. Since arriving in Ireland in 2011, Ioannis has worked with Mark Ingle within the DCU Mercy program, winning the under-20 National Cup.
Liapakis brings with him a wealth of experience, which can only help this Marian side. Foley notes, “Ioannis actually coached at a really high level in Greece for AEK Athens and he was exactly what we needed to be honest, I’ve really enjoyed pre-season and he’s an excellent coach.”
Ioannis himself clearly knows what it takes to manage a side like UCD. He said after arriving at the club, “I understand the traditions and philosophy of UCD Marian and I hope to add my experience and expertise to this team and bring the success I know it deserves.”
UCD Marian were understandably met with huge levels of interest when this head coach position became vacant, however, chairman Alan Fearon insists Ioannis was always the number one choice.
“We received a huge amount of interest in the position from all over the world,” he said. “But we thought that Ioannis was the outstanding candidate and the best fit for our club.” Part of this was no doubt down to the fact that Ioannis had quite a successful playing career himself, having played in the top Greek league for Peristeri, as well as in the Euroleague for the same club.
Interest in the sport of basketball across the Atlantic is no secret and UCD Marian are no doubt also excited by the prospect of seeing Americans, Terence King and Alex Moorehead, in action on court.
Foley desribes King as “an absolute freak athlete. He’s got a 45 [inch] vertical jump, I mean, just crazy stuff. He’s one of the most athletic players I’ve ever played with, plus he’s a very skilled player as well so I’m excited about him.
Guard Moorehead is doing a Masters in Smurfit and Foley is just as optimistic about that acquisition. “It’s lucky we stumbled across him. He’s from a division three school in Dallas, Texas, which is where he played. He’s a good addition, but Terence and Alex can’t play at the same time due to league rules concerning American players.”
Player recruitment can tend to be a problem for Irish basketball, with interest levels in the sport not as high as the likes of rugby, soccer and gaelic football. Foley believes that it’s simply a matter of luck and proper advertising in most cases if you want the top players. “This year I randomly came across a guy that played at Bryant University in Rhode Island, which is NCAA Division 2 and he’s a quality player.
“It’s just a matter of advertising around campus and seeing if these guys are there. We have a few good young Irish guys coming through and a German guy, Conor Ross, who happened to roll up to UCD and now he’s on our Superleague team.”
The National Cup format has changed this year, with two legs per round now instead of one. Granted, this rule change will affect all teams equally, but Foley isn’t mad about the change. “I’m not a fan of this as basketball is such a close game and games go up to 80-90 points so you could beat someone by five points and on the return leg they beat you by six points and they’ve won it.”
Foley agrees that the two-leg rule would work in other sports, but basketball is a different kettle of fish. “The two legs are fine for football, but it just doesn’t suit basketball. Fair enough if it’s best of three or best of five as that’s the way basketball playoffs in most countries are, but I just don’t see the benefit.”
With regards the season ahead, Foley says “I know it’s a cliché, but take it one game at a time and see how it goes.” One thing of note Foley mentions about UCD Marian’s new head coach is that “He’s the complete package.” Let’s hope we’re saying that about the entire team come the end of the season.